Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »

New Bedford, Massachusetts

The Oozing Whale Skeleton of New Bedford

For 20 years, this whale skeleton has been slowly dripping oil on the floor of the museum where it hangs. 

In New Bedford, Massachusetts, the setting of Herman Melville’s story of the Great White Whale, there is a suspended whale skeleton that has been oozing oil for over 15 years.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is filled with cannibal forks, the world’s largest scrimshaw collection, canned whale meat, and 2,500 handwritten accounts of whaling voyages. Here the unusual is usual, including its collection of four whale skeletons hanging over the entrance. These giant marine mobiles include a humpback named Quasimodo, a fetal right whale and its mother Reyna, and the biggest — a blue whale called KOBO.

In 1998 KOBO (“King of the Blue Ocean”) was accidentally struck by a tanker off the coast of Nova Scotia, and his carcass was saved for research and education. He is one of only four blue whale skeletons on display in the world, and at 66 feet long, with a one-and-a-half ton skull, KOBO makes your head snap back in awe. It’s probably a good idea to keep your mouth shut if you do, to avoid the occasional drips of oil still oozing from his bones almost 20 years after the tragic accident. Whales are so oily, KOBO’s bones will keep leaking for many years to come.

The Museum has taken advantage of these leaky bones as a learning opportunity and has set up a platform to funnel some of the whale oil into a small beaker. While the display inspires occasional questions from visitors, the answer to “Can I use this to cook with?” is “Probably not.”

 

Know Before You Go

New Bedford is an hour south of Boston and 35 minutes east of Providence. The Museum is open every day between April 1 and Dec 31 from 9am to 5pm, and from January thru March they are open Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 4pm, and Sunday from 11am to 4pm.Adult admission is $17, seniors $15, students $10, kids age 4 and over are $7, 3 and under (and members) are free. Tickets are good for two consecutive days upon presentation of reciept. See website for more details, directions and parking.